Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Where Do You Start?

by Markiesha Thompson & Rita Garwood Monitor 101 2022
The success or failure of a company’s DE&I efforts depends on the measures they take, as well as the practicality of those measures. Andrew Tarsy, principal at Emblem Strategic, discusses how companies can begin to dig deeper and make practical steps towards improving and implementing DE&I into their workplace cultures.

Markiesha Thompson,
Associate Editor,

“If a company is looking to make the most of its DE&I attempts, it should first ask, “Why? Why does this matter to the business? Why does this matter to us as individuals?” Being specific about the “why” leaves little room for others to assume why DE&I matters to the company.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion has become a topic that is very prevalent in the workplace, more so than before, and it has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic and recent political climate. However, there are various reasons why a company may not have addressed its DE&I focus, including not knowing where to start. Andrew Tarsy, principal of Emblem Strategic, helps companies address those reasons and take successful actions with DE&I.

Why and Who?

According to Tarsy, if a company is looking to make the most of its DE&I attempts, it should first ask “Why? Why does this matter to the business? Why does this matter to us as individuals?” Being specific about the “why” leaves little room for others to assume why DE&I matters to the company. After that, the “who” must be figured out. “Who does this matter to? Is it just the boss or stakeholders? And who are those stakeholders? What is the message they’re putting out there about why it matters to them?” After looking at your “why” and mapping out the stakeholders, Tarsy says a focal point should begin to emerge.

Tarsy also says one way to work out this thought process is to draw a circle on a piece of paper with yourself in the middle of it. Place your key stakeholders around the perimeter of the circle: customers, investors, regulators, employees, neighbors or communities where you work. With these stakeholders surrounding you “on paper”, ask yourself what they expect from you in the DE&I realm. Does it matter to your customers? Your employees? Government? Advocates in your category? Understanding what they expect from you as a company can be an important step. Employees are seeking purpose from their employers, and the teams and the talent companies wish to attract are people with questions about authenticity who want to know more about who they are working with in a complicated world, which has led to the increase of pressure from employees for DE&I actions in the workplace. Starting by answering very directly why DE&I matters and viewing that through the eyes of all stakeholders is a great starting point, Tarsy says.

Baselining & Benchmarking

The second step Tarsy covers is a combination of baselining and benchmarking. Ask the questions, “Where are we today in the key parts of our business that are the priorities for this conversation? Where do important stakeholders think we should we be? Where do we think we should be?” He also notes that when baselining, the business can include any areas that are important. Tarsy notes the amount of diversity in different categories and levels of an organization, company culture, retention and development of talent, sourcing and purchasing of goods and services, or the relationship with a company’s community tend to be important for many firms.
When it comes to attracting diverse pools of talent and candidates to a company, Tarsy says, “you can’t accept paralysis. You have to take action to become an employer of choice for the people you want to attract.” Attracting a more diverse range of people to your organization often involves taking action that demonstrates to potential candidates that your company is welcoming to people from historically marginalized groups, such as building relationships with institutions that serve people of color and learning how to recruit candidates from those programs, Tarsy explains. The key, he says, is building relationships that can inform and guide your effort over time.

In Tarsy’s experience, when a company takes action to reinforce its statement of belief in diversity, that becomes part of its identity. When companies become more diverse and earn a reputation for being a place where traditionally underrepresented people can succeed, the word spreads. When your company shows it will consistently engage with a more diverse group of vendors and suppliers than most, you can form new relationships outside of some of the typical networks, leading to value and opportunity because it’s not enough to just make your company look good.

Benchmarking in key areas will give a company a picture of where it needs to invest, according to Tarsy. Asking the questions: “How are we doing right now?”; “Where do we think we should be?”; “Where would like to be and by when?”; “What are the actionable steps that are going to get us there?”; and “How are we going to measure success in each of these areas?” is a great way to focus on the process, he adds. Companies may need outside help to assist with this process. Companies like Emblem Strategic can add insight and technique as well as bring new relationships to the table. This approach can also help to make a company’s operating team bigger until it sees enough progress to justify additional funding for more staff and tools.

Commitment Yields Results

After baselining and benchmarking, Tarsy says the next step is making a long-term commitment to sustained action. To find out which areas need improvement, he suggests a company regularly ask of itself, “Who is here? Who are we missing? How do we know if the customer market is changing or if the talent market is changing? Would we be the last to know or do we know already?”

Great companies are building and leveraging relationships for many purposes. When a company does community work and charity work, it’s also team building, Tarsy says. When a company gives back in a way that is intentional, Tarsy notes, it sends a message internally about who it values and what it sees in the world, which affects its ability to attract and retain diverse talent, customers and investors. The key is to be authentic to what you decide matters to the company and then to measure and celebrate success. Then you reload, and you keep going.

There’s always a way for a company to address DE&I, according to Tarsy, it just has to start by acknowledging the work is important to the business and the work is never complete. We already know that about things like market research, customer support, product development, cost containment and many other areas of a business. DE&I is no different. “DE&I is part of the new definition of excellence in every way,” Tarsy says.

ABOUT THEAUTHOR: Markiesha Thompson is associate editor of Monitor. Rita E. Garwood, editor in chief, interviewed Andrew Tarsy for this article.

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